A demonstration whose motto was “War for life, give back the money” was held at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square Saturday night. It was the height, so far, of a protest movement that has been gathering steam in response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to manage the coronavirus crisis and to his and his cabinet’s disconnect from the real lives of Israelis.
Israelis are fed up. Not only is the economy tanking, but citizens are recognizing that the person who should be working around the clock to solve the crisis is directing his energies into his own personal aid package, a tax benefit of around a million shekels ($290,000) at the public’s expense. Not only are Israelis being crushed by economic burdens, but they’re also forced to listen to Minister Without Portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi calling the idea that some of them are going hungry “bullshit” and to watch as a series of senior politicians violate social-distancing regulations that they themselves imposed on the public.
It appears that the protests and Israelis’ lack of trust in their elected officials have managed to crack the great wall of a government of disconnected politicians. After weeks of turning their backs on the public and citizens’ economic, social and health difficulties, Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yisrael Katz remembered to present a new economic assistance program on Thursday.
The plan includes an immediate allocation of 7,500 shekels for self-employed people; the extension of eligibility for unemployment benefits through June 2021 or until the national unemployment rate drops below 10 percent; a payment of up to 6,000 shekels every two months to small businesses with annual turnover of up to 300,000 shekels; larger businesses may be eligible for as much as 500,000 shekels every two months. The program will cost around 90 billion shekels, with 60 billion coming from the national budget; the remainder will be borrowed.
On paper, these are important steps in the right direction, but Israelis have experience with promises that are never fulfilled and money that is never deposited in their bank accounts. These programs will rise or fall on details and performance, which so far has been poor.
It should be noted that the program does not create jobs or reduce the ranks of the unemployed, never mind being enough to permit the reopening of businesses that have had to shut down. At most, it’s a plastic life preserver that’s tossed into the ocean for survivors of a ship already in danger of sinking. In order for it to be effective, Israel must have a state budget for the next year and a half as well as economic reforms.
But Netanyahu, as usual, prefers to reserve the option of dissolving the government so as not to carry out his rotation agreement with Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz. As long as political interests and personal welfare play a central role in Netanyahu’s considerations, there will be little chance of seeing any economic recovery.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.